How to Hike Vermont’s Long Trail

Bog Bridges on the Long Trail, Vermont

Bog Bridges on the Long Trail, Vermont

Finished in 1930, The Long Trail is the oldest long distance hiking trail in the United States and shares a National Scenic Trail designation along with longer trails such as the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. The trail is 272 miles in length running the length of Vermont from the Vermont-Massachusetts border to the Vermont-Canada Border. Remote, muddy, and mountainous, it is considered far more difficult and rugged to hike than the Appalachian Trail.

I volunteer as a Long Trail Mentor for the Green Mountain Club which maintains Vermont’s Long Trail. I section hiked the Long Trail or LT in 2008, and have been giving free advice to people ever since because it was such a transformative personal experience for me.

I’ve been having a lot of email correspondence this month with hikers interested in hiking The Long Trail next year and I thought I’d summarize what I’m telling them. If you’re planning a hike, fire away with questions in the comment box below. I’m happy to help you plan or give advice about what to expect.

Hiking Season

The best time to hike The Long Trail is between June and mid-October.

The Green Mountain Club requests that hikers stay off the trail until Memorial Day at the end of May because snowmelt makes the trail very muddy and hiking causes too much erosion.

While there are black flies in June, you can still hike the trail then although it’s probably best to cover up with long pants and a long sleeve short and to bring a bug net. After mid-October, the weather starts to turn cold in Vermont. If you want to enjoy Autumn on the trail, September is probably the best time to go

Trail Difficulty

The Long Trail is a difficult trail to hike because it’s very rocky, muddy and there are a lot of mountains on the route. The easiest part are the southern 100 miles which coincide with the Appalachian Trail. After that the trail gets much more mountainous and remote.

How to Prepare

If you don’t have previous experience backpacking and camping, you don’t want to start acquiring it on the Long Trail. Make sure you go on a few multi-day backpacking trips and develop expertise using all of your gear, including your tent, stove, and rain gear,  in good and bad weather. It rains a lot on the Long Trail and you need to be familiar with how to stay warm when wet and how to take care of your feet when they are wet for days at a time.

Next, hiking up and down mountains all day is hard work if you are wearing a backpack and some advance training is helpful. In total there are 53 named mountains on the Long Trail, including 27 that are 3,500 feet or higher. When you train, try to go on hikes up similarly sized mountains wearing a pack. Climbing stairs and working out in a gym are sub-optimal – you can only train to hike, by hiking.

On average, it takes hikers 19 days to complete the Long Trail if they hike it end-to-end in a single trip. If you do the math, that means they’re averaging slightly more than 14 miles a day. Do you know if you can hike 14 miles a day? You don’t have to hike at this pace of course, but you will want to be able to hike 10 miles a day. That can be a shock if you don’t prepare for it.

Profanity Trail on Mount Mansfield, Vermont

Profanity Trail on Mount Mansfield, Vermont

Blazing

The Long Trail is white blazed like The Appalachian Trail and is easy to follow except when it crosses the tops of peaks that have been turned into ski areas. Be patient. You’ll eventually find the continuation of the trail on the other side of a ski slope, but you might have to look for a while to find it.

Guidebooks and Maps

You should bring a map when you hike The Long Trail, so you can see where the shelters are, or roads so you can hitch to town to resupply. The best map of the Long Trail is published by Wilderness Press on behalf of the Green Mountain Club. It has elevation profiles, segment distances, and detailed notes about the route, plus it’s waterproof. I wouldn’t bother buying any of the Green Mountain Club Long Trail Guidebooks and I certainly would bother carrying them. The map has all of the information you need. I bought all of the Green Mountain Guidebooks and they’re really targeted at day hikers, not end-to-enders.

Shelters

There are two types of Shelters on the Long Trail – Appalachian Trail style lean-tos that have one open side and fairly luxurious cabins which four walls and a door. There are lean-tos on the southern 100 miles of the Long Trail that overlap with the Appalachian Trail, but that changes after the Appalachian Trail forks off and heads east to New Hampshire. As you head north on the Long Trail, the shelters get much nicer and more comfortable. They also become far less crowded and depending on when you hike, you might have one all to yourself.

If you’re planning on using a tent instead of sleeping in the shelters, you’ll probably reconsider this decision after you wake up in a puddle or end up getting your inner tent soaked by trying to pitch it in pouring rain. You have never seen so much rain in your life. The shelters are dry, you can hang your wet clothes up at night, and it can be really nice to talk to someone over dinner if you’ve been hiking in the rain all day.

After hiking the Long Trail, rain won’t bother you anymore.

Water Availability

It’s really easy to find water on the Long Trail. Just look down. Bring a filter or Aquamira water purification drops. Vermont has a huge beaver population and you need to treat water from natural water sources.

Food Resupply

I think planning your resupply points is the hardest part of hiking the Long Trail because you need to get rides to town and back. If you try to hitchhike, do it on a “big” road with lots of traffic. You can also send food to inns near the trail and have them hold it for you. Some areas have public transportation which stops at Trail heads so that is an option, and begging rides from others hikers from trail heads to town is also a viable strategy. Remember, you don’t need to plan that many resupply points if you can hike 15 miles a day and are willing to carry 5-7 days of food at a time.

Canada from the Northernmost Point of the Long Trail

Canada from the Northernmost Point of the Long Trail

Clothing

No cotton. Bring rain gear, rain pants, and a billed hat. Don’t bring a lot of extra clothing because it’s just going wet and heavy.

Don’t wear leather boots because they will never dry. It’s not a question of waterproofing. You will have water coming into your boots over the ankles almost every day of your hike. I recommend you consider a soft shoe like a trail runner that won’t cause blisters when it gets wet.

Wear long pants and a long shirt so you don’t have to cover yourself in DEET or worry as much about Lyme disease.

Gear

Bring the minimum necessary.

Keep it light, so you can carry more food and move fast.

Bring bug netting, even if you sleep in closed shelters.

Bring earplugs.

I wouldn’t recommend a wood stove. Too wet.

Bring the lightest shelter possible, in case you don’t make it to a trail shelter for the night or you decide to stop and camp in the middle of nowhere. You will kick yourself if you insist on carrying a 4-5 pound tent and only use it a half dozen times your entire trip.

Questions?

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51 Responses to How to Hike Vermont’s Long Trail

  1. Matt January 31, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Thank you for the LT post. I brought my daughter along for an end-to-end hike last year, which we both enjoyed. I was the one with backpacking experience, and so I whittled down what she brought and made myself responsible for decisions on resupply, etc.I’d add two things to consider to what you’ve written. One, travel south to north or north to south? I decided that it would be easier to get back to the Boston area from Williamstown, MA, than attempt getting a ride from near the Canadian border. Psychologically, too, I thought it would be easier to think as we hiked that we were getting ever nearer to “home.” Of course, the downside is that the northern half of the LT is much more rugged than the south and that makes starting out challenging. The legs are fresher but not quite as attuned to hiking as they would be if starting out in the somewhat less challenging south. Two, backpacking stove fuel canisters were difficult to find and I think a denatured alcohol stove is a much better bet. We hiked with a canister stove and had some resupply dictated by the need to locate an outfitter. Anyone who hasn’t taken the opportunity to hike at least sections of the LT should do so. They’re in for a treat.

    —–Matt

    • Earlylite January 31, 2013 at 10:40 am #

      Really good points Matt – not very many outfitters on the LT, so unless you leave packages at the inns with gas canisters in them, denatured alcohol is the way to go for stove fuel.

      Northbound or southbound? If you’re newish to Backpacking, I recommend going south to north so you can physically acclimate to the effort level and you are around other people at the beginning. You can also flip flop but doing the southern section up to Killington and then getting someone to drive you to the northern terminus so you can hike back to where you left off. I’ve gotten shuttles from the Long Trail Inn and reckon they’d do it.

  2. Scott Barker January 31, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Great post. I thru-hiked the trail last Sept – Oct. I was interested in your comment about using a soft trail runner — I started with Salomon Synapse Mid as a lightweight soft boot and ended up switching to a sturdier, heavier Mammut boot in Killington, mid-hike. For me, that ended up being the better choice.

    Hiking north to south worked well for me in the fall — I hiked with the leaf change.

    Here’s a slideshow of my hike and my modest attempt to portray the spiritual beauty found on the Long Trail:

    http://freelancetrekker.com/2012/12/28/long-trail-through-hike-in-pictures-a-review/

    • Earlylite January 31, 2013 at 10:36 am #

      Beautiful video Scott – I have many of those same pictures and memories but without the benefit of hiking in Autumn. Looks like you got some frost, but I bet it was drier than in July!

  3. Steve M January 31, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    While a thru hike would be awesome, my life does not allow me to hope for more than section hiking any trail longer than 50 – 80 miles, i.e a long weekend. Can you suggest any portions of the long Trail that lend themselves to a two to four day section hike, especially portions that capture the beauty of some of Scott Barker’s video? Also, is it ALWAYS raining? Is it reasonable to assume less rain in August / early September, which would likely be the time of year I would plan to hike?

    • Earlylite January 31, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

      Me too – my norm is a few days too and I can only rarely take an entire week or 2 off to go hiking.

      It’s not always raining, but it does rain a lot because it’s a north/south mountain range. The rain eases off in September.

      For good sections – I’ll direct you to my Long Trail page which lists the 8 sections I hiked the trail in in 2008 along with detailed trip reports.
      http://sectionhiker.com/the-long-trail/

  4. JimC January 31, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    Thank you for posting this. I am moving to North Carolina later this year, and the Long Trail is something that my hiking partner and I are looking at doing in 2014.

    Your site is my favorite website, and I thank you for all the brilliant articles you post on here.

    JimC

    • Earlylite January 31, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

      Keep up with the Kettlebells Jim! Many thanks.

      • JimC January 31, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

        Lol!! Thanks. I have a love hate relationship with those things!! Thank you for taking the time to read my rantings!!

        JimC

  5. Michelle Lawson February 5, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    I’m in the early stages of my planning my south to north hike on the Long Trail this summer. The one thing that is pressing on me the most is how to get transportation out of Canda. I’ve done a search, but I haven’t found anything yet. Can you shed some light on this?

  6. Ray "Walking Home" Peck Jr March 22, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    I am also considering this hike this summer, and like Michelle, I am curious about transportation options at both ends.

  7. Kimberly Morrow March 23, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    I am also planning and end to end hike this summer. I would like to hike south to north but am also wondering how to deal with the transportation issues. It would be great if we could hike in the same time frame so we could plant a car at Journey’s end and then carpool back to Williamstown. Any other comments would be helpful though on how other people have done this in the past.

    • Earlylite March 23, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

      Call the gmc. I am sure they have the latest shuttle services.

    • Gary Duffy January 22, 2014 at 9:59 am #

      I hiked the south to north route for 140 or so miles a couple years ago. Retiring in May so I plan on starting over this year and thru-hiking the entire trail now that I have the time. Being from Vermont I simply have someone drop me off in MA and will have someone pick me up at the other end. I notice that Vt trans lines services Williamstown MA, not sure about the Northern end though. I do know they run out of Burlington area where I live, but that’s 100 + miles from trails end. If they happen to run out of Newport, VT that would be pretty close. You could call them for more info. (802-223-7870)

      • Muriel May 26, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

        I am leaving this coming Monday, as soon after Memorial Day as I can. I am having someone drop me off and I will have someone pick me up. I plan to have a cell phone and a solar panel to charge my cell phone. I have people who want me to keep in contact with them so they know I am ok.

        • Philip Werner May 26, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

          Good luck with the solar panel. The entire trail is in a dense forest and you won’t be able to recharge unless you sit still in direct sun for 30 hours.

          • Muriel May 26, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

            Thanks. Somehow these folks who are using video cameras are charging their batteries. I was told to get a solar panel. I know from going cross country on my bike, my camera batteries died quickly. I needed to get a charger for my batteries.

    • Gary Duffy January 22, 2014 at 10:02 am #

      Just noticed these posts are over a year old…. oh well.

      • Philip Werner January 22, 2014 at 10:12 am #

        People still use them as a living resource. I get LT questions all the time.

  8. Bob Mason May 19, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    Will be end2end in Aug 2013, exact dates are tbd. Expect to hike sobo, due to ride considerations (wife). Just ordered the map (I have the 2 books) and hope the map is as good as you claim. Would like to leave the books home. Left maps home when I did the AT.

  9. Scott Barker May 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    I left the thick Long Trail Guide at home, although I copied sections and had those sent to mail drops along with my resupply to coincide with where I was hiking next. I ended up not using them. I did read it thoroughly in planning my trip and route, noting water sources carefully (which ended up being more caution than necessary, there was water everywhere).

    I did take a paired down “End to Enders Guide,” trimming off the background pages and just taking the section that described shelters and trail towns along the way. This DID help me as I altered my schedule along the way.

    I can’t imagine hiking without a trail map, even though the LT, as is the AT, well marked.

    Happy Hiking!

  10. Erick June 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    In final stages of training for my NOBO End to End hike starting August 31st. Anyone else starting the trail this timeframe?….I have transportation lined up from Journey’s End back to MA.

    • Rockfish July 22, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

      Greetings
      Plan on leaving from Detroit on August 31 Have hike he trail before Southbound, much wiser to start in mass & head north. I do have a question about how you are getting out at the end, in 2002 I took a bus but i is no longer an option.

      Any Info about an exit would be helpful, Hope to see you on the trial

  11. Ray "Walking Home" Peck Jr June 7, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    Not sure the exact dates yet but I am hoping to get out there sometime in August.

  12. erick June 8, 2013 at 2:51 am #

    Comment as it gets closer…could benefit from a fellow nobo

  13. MagnumPI June 17, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    There’s actually quite a few outfitters along the trail; don’t go by what the End to Ender’s guide says alone. Johnson Hardware Lawn and Garden is an example of a gem that’s right off of the trail and isn’t mentioned anywhere. It’s a real department store with real outdoor gear. That said, it is possible to get stuck out there without something essential many miles from the nearest gear shop.It is Vermont after all and the trail doesn’t just waltz through booming trail towns like the AT does in places. For this reason I’d recommend carrying food that can be eaten cold/dry in a pinch and carrying backup water purification tablets. I had my filter break on the morning of the third day of my thru-hike. At that point i still had 60ish miles before reaching a guaranteed source of water purification supplies. I sure was glad that I’d slipped that half empty bottle of iodine in my bag at the last minute before leaving the house.

  14. MagnumPI June 17, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    I don’t mean to be argumentative but I disagree that the rain eases off in September. I’m a GMC caretaker which requires that I spend 5 days a week on a very specific little piece of the LT from early July to mid-October. I would say that, if anything, the rain begins to amp up in September.

  15. Bob Mason June 17, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    So now that we know Johnson Hardware Lawn and Garden is a great place, exactly where is it?

  16. Scott Barker June 18, 2013 at 9:15 am #

    It’s on the road (Rt. 15) East from the trail heading into Johnson. You can walk there from where the trail crosses the road, or catch a ride. Either Roundtop Shelter or Bear Hollow shelter are great shelters to stop at either before or after going into town. Roundtop has great views of the Lamoille River Valley and is a beautiful shelter in its own right. Nearby Jeffersonville has a restaurant (158 Main) with wonderful deserts like Maple Creme Brule. I found it easy to hitch a ride on 15. Johnson also has a good post office for mail drops.

  17. Julie June 22, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    I really want to do a long day hike and stay at an inn and hike back the next day. Is there any place along the trail in Vermont where it’s possible to hike 12-14 miles and find an inn rather than a lean to?

    • Earlylite June 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

      Try the long trail inn. Right on the trail.

  18. Laird September 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    I’m headed up to do a SB LT hike in a few weeks. Last year I did the VA seciton of the AT NB. It rained quite a bit during that trip. I used the Packa, it worked very well but thought I could improve my rain gear by using an ultralight umbrella in conjuction. Are the trails too tight to use an umbrella? Also it is feasible to leave the tent home and rely on shelter space?

  19. Colleen October 12, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Hi ya! On a spur of the moment jaunt to Vermont. staying on killington road, and really want to take a day hike on the long trail with my husband. What suggestions can you offer? We have appropriate shoes but not much else, just looking to enjoy the woods in this beautiful weekend!????

    • Philip Werner October 12, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

      Your best bet would be to buy a map and to call the green Mountain club for suggestions.

  20. jack February 5, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

    “You will have water coming into your boots over the ankles almost every day of your hike” Does this mean it’s a ‘wading’ trail? I’ve worn leather/gortex boots through lots of rain. So long as they don’t get scuppered I don’t see a problem. Just how wet is it under foot?

  21. Mark Warren February 6, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    I section hiked the LT with a group from the Boston chapter of the AMC about the same time Philip was doing it. We called the LT the longest continuous waterway in VT. We honestly saw a 4″ trout in the trail once. Some mud puddles can be 16″ deep. Philip is not kidding when he says rain will never bother you again.

  22. Julie March 26, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    Call the Green Mountain Club. There are volunteers who will do pickups from trailheads and bring you to town or somewhere! not all the way home but I bet you can get to or near a bus or train station

  23. puzso23 March 31, 2014 at 6:05 am #

    If you can really find water that easily, that makes hiking so much more easier. The pictures look amazing!

  24. KSM June 28, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    It has been years since I have been on the long trail. My father and I together have sectioned hiked about 80% of the LT. Just getting out of the Navy i would like to get out there for a 4-7 day solo hike. Any recommendations on sections that work well in that time frame.
    I was doing a little hiking out west where i was stationed. Although I am definitely soft when it comes to my hiking muscles.

    Thank you
    – ET2(SS)

  25. AV July 1, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    What is the best way to store food overnight on the LT? (Bear Bag, Canister, etc..)

    • Philip Werner July 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      I think an Ursack is the best way because it combines the best properties of a bear bag (lightweight) with the bearproofnes of a canister. It also fits up to 9 days of food.

  26. joey July 21, 2014 at 12:09 am #

    hiking the long trail this season. northbound. where is the best place to leave my car? and is getting back to my car going to be an issue?

    • Philip Werner July 21, 2014 at 5:55 am #

      Noth adams. yes. Call the GMC, maybe they can suggest a shuttle service

  27. Sébastien Chagnon August 19, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    Thank you for publishing this! Very helpful indeed!

    My gf and I did this small overnighter on Mt Mansfield this last weekend and totally fell in love with it. We promised ourselves a 4 days/3 nights hike on the LT. Most likely south to north, ending somewhere past Mt Mansfield.

    So anyway, as a (approximate) rule of thumb, for that kind of hike including the 3500+ footers of the region, how much backpacking weight should we limit ourselves to? How long can I stretch a mid-sized propane/butane stove canister? Will it last me the 4 days? Is alcohol a better and/or safer option?

    On Mansfield I was wearing average Nike running shoes. On our way back down the mountain, the northbound portion of LT on Mt Mansfield that takes us down to route 108 was very sketchy especially since the pouring rain was making those huge steep flat rocks slippery as hell. One way or another, I need to purchase hiking footwear. Will a good Vibram sole give me some traction on those wet rocks? Any suggestions?

    More questions may come later but for now, that’s pretty much it.

    Thanks again! :)

    • Philip Werner August 19, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

      A small canister jetboil (isobutane) should give you 15 2-cup boils, so no problem for 4 days for 2 people.
      On wet rock, I personally prefer train runners over vibram boots. If I were to hike the LT again, I’d do it in La Sportiva Ultra Raptors.

  28. Sébastien Chagnon August 22, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

    Thank you Philip, your answer is much appreciated. :)

  29. Justin Ryan August 26, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi, thanks for the great site! I’m thinking of hiking northbound from Dalton, MA to Jonesville (or further) in September, solo and straight through. Is there any source of info as to where the potential resupply points are, either by grocery store or post office? I see the Food Resupply section above, but am hoping for more specifics. Does the map have this info? Thanks!

  30. Philip Werner August 26, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    Not really. Your best bet is to google and get a road atlas.

  31. Justin November 25, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    Hey there,
    Im planning a thru hike next sept to oct, and would love to bring my dog along. Is this possible? is it allowed? Is there spots that no dog could make it through? Any help appreciated. Thanks

    • Muriel November 25, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

      Hi there Justin…. I made an attempt at doing the entire trail in one fell swoop but failed miserable… I was totally not in shape. However, with that said, I met a lot of folks who brought their buddies, friends, family members with them. One gentleman had a backpack on his buddy… he was helping him carry the load. So, yes, lots and lots of people bring their pets with them and they make it just fine…. a lot easier than us in fact!

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